By Sun Guangyong
Driving north more than 60 kilometers along Highway No.3 in Houay Xai, Bokeo Province in northern Laos, our car reached a narrow road, both sides of which were surrounded by mountains. After another hour on this winding road, we reached rows of high voltage power distribution structures and electrical equipment standing neatly on the mountain.
In the sun, the silver-white structures and wires formed a beautiful picture against the surrounding landscape. It is 230-kilovolt Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom power transmission and transformation project on the mountain at an altitude of more than 420 meters. Electric transmission lines above the winding Nam Tha River deliver a steady stream of electricity to urban areas and villages in Laos, providing an energy guarantee for regional economic development.
Chinese Equipment Awesome
Energy cooperation between China and Laos has continued to deepen with the advancement of Belt and Road construction. In November 2014, State Grid Corporation of China (SGCC) and Electricite du Laos (EDL) signed an engineering procurement construction (EPC) contract of 230-kilovolt Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom power transmission and transformation project, the value of which is about US$169 million.
The contract includes a 94.1-kilometer 230-kilovolt Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom transmission line, a 21.9-kilometer 115-kilovolt Pak Ngeuy– Nampen transmission line, a new 230-kilovolt substation in Pha Oudom and an expanded 230-kilovolt substation in Pak Ngeuy.
At the end of July 2018, the substation in Pha Oudom conducted live commissioning and was handed over to EDL in August. The well-coordinated transfer enabled Nam Tha River No. 1 Hydropower Plant to produce electricity for surrounding provinces such as Bokeo and Luang Namtha.
In the main control room of the substation in Pha Oudom, EDL’s technicians attentively observed and recorded data from a computer. Khun Ping, a technician with EDL, studied engineering at the National University of Laos for five years and has been working at the substation for more than five months, ever since it began operation.
“The Chinese equipment is in good condition, and power transformation and distribution systems are safe and reliable,” he reported. “With the click of a mouse, we can confirm the operating status and parameters of each device. We can conveniently realize overall control of station equipment through the relay control cabinet on the computer interface.”
The Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom power transmission and transformation project has not only made tremendous contributions to the electricity development of Laos, but has also exported mature and advanced Chinese technologies, standards and management concepts to the country, ensuring win-win cooperation between China and Laos.
Saisomkang, an employee of EDL for many years, formerly worked as a teacher at an institute of technology and at several substations built by Norway, Thailand and China. “Substations constructed by enterprises from various countries have different traits,” he noted. “Chinese equipment is pretty good because it is easy to operate and dependable.”
Wianglek, a village just a few kilometers from the substation in Pha Oudom, is home to more than 200 households. Villagers seldom left the mountain areas before Chinese companies came to build more than 30 kilometers of roads. The arrival of Chinese enterprises has changed everything.
Chen Weihua, the project’s on-site manager from China Electric Power Equipment and Technology Co., Ltd., said that the Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom project steadfastly insisted on localized labor and management, not only to save project costs but more importantly to promote employment of locals and improve their living standards.
During the 20-month peak season for substation construction, more than 40 Lao workers were hired and worked a combined 15,000 days. Approximately 120 Lao workers were employed during the peak season of power line construction, and they logged a total of 30,000 working days. Many Lao workers grasped new skills, which will benefit them in future employment.
Keaoweng, a young man from Wianglek village, worked more than six months during construction. He began digging the foundation pit before installing equipment and pulling wire. Gradually he learned the basic skills needed to become an electrician. He took a job at a substation under construction in Houay Xai.
“I will earn more than US$300 per month there, which is much more stable than what I was earning from farming and hunting,” he revealed. “My children no longer need to read under kerosene lamps because my house now has electricity transmitted through the power lines. Our life has been improving constantly since Chinese companies arrived.”
Local Living Standards Improved
EDL organized relevant personnel to visit project sites multiple times to learn from the Chinese partner. When Lao Minister of Energy and Mines Khammany Inthirath conducted an on-site visit, he said, “Chinese enterprises are participating in construction of major livelihood projects in Laos by providing high quality and stable electricity— making important contributions to the local electricity industry and economic development of Laos.”
Khammany Inthirath noted that Laos is a developing country rich in hydroelectric resources and that the Lao government has stressed its commitment to vigorously developing hydroelectric power and devised a development strategy to become the “Storage Battery of Southeast Asia.” Electricity has become one of Laos’ key exports and a main source of foreign exchange. Cooperation between Laos and China in fields of energy and minerals is an important part of cooperation between the two countries.
With rapid economic growth, demand for electricity in Laos has increased significantly. Although hydroelectric resources are abundant, linking of the national grids has not yet been completed, and a few areas still do not have electricity. The Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom power project is a key link of a unified 230-kilovolt back-bone power grid in northern Laos. It will realize the interconnection of power grids of northern, central and southern Laos and help Laos’ power grids connect with the national grids of Thailand and Vietnam, providing strong support for the economic development of Laos.
“The Pak Ngeuy–Pha Oudom power project has improved the balance and stability of the power supply in Laos, providing a solid guarantee for improving people’s living standards,” declared Suriya, head of the electricity bureau of Bokeo Province of EDL. “Laos is working with Chinese companies to build more hydroelectric plants and power grids and will export electricity generated in Laos to neighboring countries including Thailand in the near future.”